A Casual Liberation

Published: Sep 29, 2019, 05:51 IST | Paromita Vohra

But the only way to alter these realities, is to remember there are others to pay attention to, if we find other ways of listening

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Paromita VohraI studied in a lot of schools and colleges on account of my father's transferable job. Many of these institutions were all-girls and it was not infrequent for me to feel this was less cool than a co-ed school, not to mention mourning the restricted opportunities for romancebaazi. But lately, I've had opportunity to reconsider this position.

Last week one of my old colleges, the Social Communications Media course at the Sophia Polytechnic, or as it is better known, SCM Sophia, celebrated its golden jubilee. Inaugurating the celebrations, its director said "the course was created to enable an early generation of women born in independent India to work in the media." Put so simply, this is suddenly an amazing fact. A movement for women's education had of course, existed since the 19th century but professional courses that did not draw on traditional roles and professions were still unusual in the mid-twentieth century. And, looking around an auditorium of stunningly diverse women professionals who have often held pioneering roles in all forms of media, art and activism, I could not help think how much the world shifts when we ask groups of people to excel for themselves, not just in service of something else; when you create a space that thinks of itself as "a means for both, personal and societal transformation."

One of the most radical things about such spaces is that they make the act of taking women and their opinions seriously, ekdum routine and normal, almost unremarkable. Because I valued the opinion of other women, it also came to be that I easily valued, rather than doubted my own. An environment with a difference, grants us the confidence and appetite for different perspectives, unhooks us from the status quo, to search for new solutions to old realities. In the last few decades of working, my path has intersected with many women from the course and we have often become friends and comrades and multiplied our learning, growing through these connections—I use that word instead of networks, consciously, because it is in fact a philosophical connection, not a professional asset.

We do still live in a world where the idea of equality—for gender or any other marginalised experience—receives much lip service, but not so much a listening ear. The Netflix show Unbelievable, wherein two women detectives solve a series of rape crimes, brings this into stark relief through the painful story of how women's stories of sexual assault are filtered through a mesh of disbelief. The two protagonists, women obsessed with their jobs, are able to take the victims seriously, because, in a sense, they take themselves and each other seriously too. They listen without the habit that cultures teach and people of all genders internalise in different ways—of devaluing women's words and worlds. In essence, their ability to do this, allows them to solve a crime, within professional procedure, which has seemed unsolvable to that habitual eye.

I hear there are some men preparing to do a pishachini yagya to vanquish feminism and #MeToo. I hear there is a powerful rape accused in hospital while his alleging victim is in jail. But the only way to alter these realities, is to remember there are others to pay attention to, if we find other ways of listening.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at paromita.vora@mid-day.com

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